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Cabinet for the blind example

In the cabinet for the blind example, a person develops a cabinet which reads books out loud. What's in the cabinet? Does the contents of the cabinet change whether the idea is a patentable invention? The cabinet could contain:

  • Innovative hardware
  • Software running on a standard computer
  • A person

1980 amicus brief from Martin Goetz

When arguing that software should be patentable, Martin Goetz presented the example this way:[1]

An inventor demonstrates his new invention to his patent attorney with great pride; he has developed a cabinet for reading books out loud to the blind. The cabinet contains both a reading and talking computer. After the demonstration, the patent attorney responds:

What's inside the cabinet? Did you build it with software or hardware (a stored program or hardware circuitry)? If built with a hardware program, your machine would be patentable. But if you built it with a stored program, the Patent Office would say it was merely mathematics and, therefore, unpatentable.”

The brief argues that "such a rule that would set up a dichotomy in subject-matter patentability based on the mode of construction would make no sense in fact or in law".[2]

UK: Symbian decision, 2008

In Symbian v. Comptroller General (2008, UK), Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury, giving the judgement of the court, wrote:

It can also be said in favour of Symbian's case that it would be somewhat arbitrary and unfair to discriminate against people who invent programs which improve the performance of computers against those who invent programs which improve the performance of other machines. However, as against that, what goes on inside a computer can be said to be closer to a mathematical method (which is, of course, not patentable by virtue of art 52(2)(a)) than what goes on inside other machines.

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